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A Sociology Paper on Ballet

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#16 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 26 July 2002 - 07:49 AM

That work is an article from a British dance journal available online here: http://www.btinterne...bodies/benn.pdf

Its main thrust deals with weight and body image, actually I don't think it's particularly polemical in its assertions. The research and interviews in it, however, were done in the United Kingdom, not in the United States.

I do find it interesting to note that both papers rely on Kirkland's books to back up their assertions on the detrimental effect ballet has on people in it. Little did Gelsey know when she wrote them she'd be cited scholastically.

#17 Brendan McCarthy

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Posted 26 July 2002 - 07:52 AM

Estelle, The paper by Benn and Walters, is available online on this link . To my surprise, one of the authors is Dorcas Walters, principal with Birmingham Royal Ballet.

#18 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 26 July 2002 - 09:30 AM

For the record, I'm dredging up an older thread on a very similar issue, Political Correctness and Ballet?

It's simpler to be dismissive of opinions like the one in the paper (she took work to find her cites, and it takes work to refute them) but I think in the long run the ballet community is better off coming up with responses, including in some cases, "We're working on that."

I don't see myself ever completely agreeing with Ms. Kelso, simply because I think her underlying goal is a sort of blanket egalitarianism that I don't believe in. At the same time, I was walking across the plaza of Lincoln Center the other day when a group of young schoolchildren, probably from a day camp, were coming from the opposite end, on a field trip. As I saw them, it seemed quite possible most of them came from homes were they might not ever come to Lincoln Center otherwise. What are those young children going to see when they come to Lincoln Center? What are they going to think? The reason I love New York City Ballet with the passion of a baseball fan is, because when I look at the company, I think, "This is my company. This is my hometown team." If I showed those children a ballet performance tonight, would it seem magnificent, or would it seem (as it does for different reasons to Ms. Kelso) alien? Will they look at it and think, "This is not mine?" And how can I get them to think "This is mine, too!"

#19 Alexandra


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Posted 26 July 2002 - 10:03 AM

Leigh, I think there are children in Appalachia, or in Your Home Suburb, who would find an NYCB performance as alien as inner city children. I don't think any ballet company can make up for what's lacking in a home or in a society.

As far as racial politics go, the only way that children of a disenfranchised group (underclass, perceived disenfranchised, whatever word that works for you) will feel a part of something that's done by the power group is when this no longer matters. When we look at someone and no longer think -- Hmm. Spanish looking, but a bit Asian, too. Filipino? When we look at a person who had some ancestors who once lived in Africa as an American -- fill in appropriate home country.

I don't think we change it the old Quota Way. Gosh. There's nothing for the Iriquois in our rep! We'd better add a Native American piece quick! Commission something from three African-American, two Asian-American, and someone born in the Southern Hemisphere -- No! Those are outdated demographics. Make that three Latinos, two AfricanAmericans and one Asian American. Etc etc etc. I find that insulting to everyone involved. I don't think it makes anyone feel more included, and I don't think it does anything for the art form.

Society is changing, but, like anything, changes in deeply held perceptions take at least two generations to work through, and we only really got serious about this in the 1960s. And I don't mean the birth of a second generation, I mean the disappearance of the generation that grew up under the old regime. (I am not suggesting hastening that.)

Until then, what? Do as much as possible to make everyone feel welcome. Do everything possible to make scholarships available to people of all groups who need them. Do a real affirmative action program -- go after "children of color" the way ballet companies go after boys. I have great admiration for what Eliot Feld has done -- go into the schools. Give those children jobs.

As for the body image thing, I like the sports analogy. Any talented player is taken who meets certain height and weight requirements appropriate for that sport. Within this, there are different body types -- I once wrote a piece on this, in the early 1980s, comparing the long, lean Dallas Cowboys to shorter, stockier, Washington Redskins, postulating that coaches made body type choices in much the same way choreographers and balletmasters do.

We have a society now that is very sensitive to "You're unfair to me!" We stop everything and try to make that right -- even if we ignore, or are more unfair, to 100 other people. No one loses out on a job because they're unqualified. No no. It's because I'm a woman, or a member of this ethnic group, or my accent is wrong, or or or or or. Should a ballet company be able to reject someone because his neck is too short, her legs are bowed, his feet are flat, and she's knock-kneed? Yes.

#20 dirac


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Posted 26 July 2002 - 11:04 AM

Leigh and Brendan, thanks for the link to the paper by Benn and Walters. Very interesting.

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